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Winter 1998, Number 1
National Survey of Victim Offender Mediation Programs in the US
Overview of survey results reveals both diversity and connection among programs across the United States
Curiosity abounds among VOM practitioners:

· How many programs conduct face-to-face preparation with the parties?

· Is mediation always voluntary?

· What kinds of crimes are viewed as appropriate for VOM?

It is not unusual for VOM programs to operate with very little sense of how their policies and practices compare with the broader field of VOM. Many questions were addressed, and other questions raised, by an extensive survey conducted in the U.S. in 1996-97 by the Center for Restorative Justice & Mediation at the University of Minnesota, School of Social Work. This survey was made possible by a grant from the Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice.

Who was interviewed? Substantive phone interviews were conducted with 116 programs from among the 289 programs identified. Types of programs interviewed:

· 43% - private, community-based

· 23% - church-based

· 16% - probation

· 8% - correctional facility

· 4% - prosecuting attorney's office

· 3% - victim services

· 2% or less - police, residential facility

Who refers cases to VOM programs? Probation officers were the most frequent source of referrals (29%), followed by judges (23%), prosecutors (15%), juvenile diversion (13%), police officers (10%), defense attorneys (7%), community members (2%), victim advocates (1%).

What kinds of cases are mediated? The three most common offenses referred to VOM programs, in the order of frequency, were: 1) vandalism, 2) minor assaults, and 3) thefts; 33% of cases referred were felonies, while 67% were misdemeanors. Programs working only with juvenile offenders and their victims represented 45% of the sample, those working only with adult offenders, 9%, those working with both, 46%. Mediations are conducted at various points in the justice process: 34% diversion; 28% post-adjudication but pre-disposition; 28% post-disposition; 7% at various points; 3% prior to court.

Are mediations ever conducted in cases of more severe violence? Programs responded affirmatively as follows:

· 33% - assault with bodily injury

· 18% - assault with deadly weapon

· 11% - negligent homicide

· 8% - domestic violence

· 7% - sexual assault within family

· 6% - sexual assault by stranger

· 6% - murder

· 3% - attempted murder

· 8% - other

Is participation in mediation voluntary for victims and offenders? In all programs, victim involvement is always voluntary (100%). For most programs, it is also voluntary for offenders (79%), while others require the offender to meet the victim, if the victim is interested (21%).

Is an admission of guilt required for offenders to participate in mediation? In 65% of the programs, offenders are expected to admit guilt regarding the referred offense prior to participation. Other programs do not require a formal admission of guilt but rather an acceptance of some personal responsibility for the crime. A number of interviewees indicated they are now accepting cases involving a degree of ambiguity between the roles of victim and offender.

How often do mediation sessions result in written agreements? Of the cases mediated, What preparation is done with the parties -- or how are the parties prepared prior to the mediation session? In 78% of the programs, separate pre-mediation sessions are held in-person with victims and offenders. These sessions are conducted by the mediator (80%) or intake staff (20%).

What are the mediator's most important tasks? Programs identified these tasks as crucial, in order of importance:

1) facilitating a dialogue between victim and offender;

2) making the parties feel comfortable and safe; and

3) assisting the parties in negotiating a restitution plan.

How often is the co-mediation model used? Many programs routinely use co-mediators (70%), others only occasionally (23%), while others use only solo mediators (7%). Reasons for the use of co-mediation included: training new mediators, quality control, teamwork, case processing and debriefing, safety, balancing racial/ethnic/gender/age diversity, involving more community volunteers.

How many hours of training are required for mediators? The average number of hours required for mediator training was 31 hours, not including apprenticing expec- tations. Training includes an average of 11 hours spent in role playing.

Themes That Emerged

1) Impact of context: Procedures, practices, program design and viability are influenced by the attitudes, structures, and resources of the communities in which the programs are situated.

2) Isolation: VOM programs frequently operate in relative isolation, geographical or otherwise, from other programs, and, as a corollary, mediators often complete their cases having minimal contact with other mediators or staff.

3) More challenging referrals: Programs aare being asked to mediate crimes of increasing severity and complexity.

4) Merits of preparation phase: While considered foundational by most programs, on-site pre-mediation preparation raises questions for some who question its necessity.

5) Enthusiastic staff: Program staff in VOM programs typically express strong convictions about the positive impact mediation has on participants and communities.

·"When they walk into the mediation session, these are people who don't trust each other or recognize any importance or commonality in each other. Then an hour and a half later they walk out recognizing their commonality.... It's a sort of soul-purging for something that had happened to them - they get it off their minds and it's really a revelation for them. They get it out and get on with their lives."

· "When offenders are done with probation, the PO asks them what it is that will most help them not re-offend. Those who have experienced mediation often remark, "mediation was the hardest thing to do but I get it now - it made me think about the victim."

· "Just even contacting the parties and acknowledging that they've been through an experience that's different.... They don't have this opportunity elsewhere in their lives to have a third person assist them through a recognition process. They come out saying, "this is really nice - everyone should have a chance to do this."

6) Common vision: While a range of practices in select areas exists among VOM programs, the goals espoused and, perhaps, achieved are relatively similar, typically articulated more as transformation than settlement.

7) Consensus on training: Considerable agreement exists among programs regarding the training format, the importance of role plays, and issues for mediators that need to be addressed, e.g., maintaining neutrality, appreciating diversity, dealing with difficult people, developing comfort with the expression of intense emotions. In addition, virtually all interviewees indicated that advanced training is necessary in working with cases of severe violence.

8) Potential of follow-up: Follow-up to the mediation session is on the cusp of becoming an area for substantive and creative enhancemnt of VOM programming, e.g., ongoing contact with victims, resourcing and referral for the participants, mentoring of offenders, training in jobsearch skills, supervision of community service.

9) Common challenges: Many programs report concerns about funding, referrals, building support in the community and in the justice system, developing collegial relationships with victim service articipation of victims in the VOM process.

10) Wrestling with issues:

· If certification for mediators becomes legislatively-mandated, will the field move in the direction of professionalism and away from volunteerism and the qualities of a "grassroots movement?"

· How do we maintain quality standards for mediators?

· How can we balance the needs of victims and offenders?

· Is it possible for offenders to be victimized by a VOM process that is strongly punitive and shaming?

· Is it helpful to have multiple supporters attend the mediation? Can the presence of too many "others" detract from the personal quality of the session?

· What is a helpful and appropriate role for parents of juvenile offenders in the mediation session?

· If VOM is sponsored by victim services or probation, will the neutrality of the program be jeopardized in the eyes of participants?

· Is mediation most useful as an alternative to adjudication, treatment, or incarceration, or as a supplement to the normal court process?

· How can we deal with pressure from the court system for particular outcomes, e.g., quick settlement? Can we maintain positive relationships with referral sources while maintaining the integrity of the labor-intensive VOM process?

· At what point in a victim's journey, following the crime, is it most beneficial for mediation to occur?

· Do we need an unequivocal confession of guilt by the offender before proceeding, or will the process itself elicit a stronger sense of responsibility in the offender? What if the victim wishes to proceed regardless of the offender's attitude?

· How useful is it to teach communication techniques, when they seem to work against a natural flow and authentic, spontaneous communication style?

· How can we train mediators to be empathetic with the unique experiences of both offender and victim, while countering the danger of labeling, which identifies a person solely as "victim" or "offender?"

By Jean E. Greenwood, M.Div.
and Mark S. Umbreit, Ph.D.

(Editors note: This article provides an overview of The National Survey Of Victim Offender Mediation Programs in The United States, conducted in 1996-1997 by the Center for Restorative Justice and Mediation, University of Minnesota, School of Social Work. The National Survey was designed to determine the number of victim offender mediation programs developing in communities throughout the United States. Following are some of the results of the survey and important themes that emerged from interviewing program staff.)

"Follow-up to the mediation session is on the cusp of becoming an area for substantive and creative enhancemnt of VOM programming"
"How useful is it to teach communication techniques, when they seem to work against a natural flow and authentic, spontaneous communication style?"
Mark S. Umbreit, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Restorative Justice and Mediation at the University of Minnesota. Mark is internationally known as a trainer, mediator, researcher and author.

Jean Greenwood, M. Div., is a researcher, writer, trainer and speaker in the field of victim offender mediation and restorative justice. Jean has trained mediators across the nation and consulted with programs in Sweden and the United Kingdom.

A copy of the full National Victim Offender Mediation Survey can be obtained by contacting the:

Center for Restorative
Justice & Mediation
School of Social Work
University of Minnesota
386 McNeal Hall
1985 Buford Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108

Connections No.1 page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 page 7 Back to Publications Page

© 1999 Victim Offender Mediation Association